“I was wondering… did… uh…uh…do you want to go to the homecoming dance with me?” As the camera frames Sam’s innocent face, the viewer lingers on to his each and every stutter instantly reminding one’s self of one’s own battles with schoolyard insecurities. The viewer is instantly brought back to the days of fanciful crushes and the hallway hellos, but as the silence between Sam and Cindy becomes more deafening, the viewer also remembers the times that those crushes crashed and those hellos went unsaid. As Sam’s hopeful eyes gaze into the possibility of acceptance, we too painfully remember those same feelings of desperation. After all, the viewers know all too well that Sam is not really looking to go to the dance per-se, for what he is really looking for is confirmation of his existence in the social hell some deem to call high school. Sam is looking for acceptance, belonging, love, and self-confidence, but he is fruitlessly searching for a happiness that is simply out of his league, and as a result it does not come as a shock to anyone (except perhaps to Sam) that Cindy already has a date to the dance. In other words, it does not come as a shock that Cindy, the popular cheerleader, has in fact been confirmed within the social order. But why must we watch this same sad tale over and over again? This story of unrequited teenage love is not only prevalent in Freaks and Geeks, but also in My So-Called Life and Skins as well. Moreover if it is so painful for one to watch (and I do not think I am the only one that cringed at Sam’s question) why do we keep on watching the same sad woe in coming of age stories?
As we watch stories like this unfold, we like to see ourselves as the sage and superior onlookers, but are we actually sage or superior to little Sam? Moreover, do we ever actually come of age or do we perpetually remain underdogs? Perhaps we continue to watch the same sad story of the defeated, because we will always associate with the underdog, and thus we watch for the day that David actually does defeat Goliath. This hope that love will indeed conquer all, even for the weak, is what permits us watch Brian Krakow, of My So-Called Life, make as ass of himself in front of his neighbor and crush, Angela Chase. This hope is what draws us to sickly, lonely Cassie as she approaches Sid longing to find someone that actually cares about her. Thus, we see Cassie, Brian, and Sam as character extensions of ourselves, and consequently these fictional victories in the battlefield of love are internalized as our own as well. As Jason Mittell states in his essay on “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television,” one the chief pleasures in shows like Lost “is the show’s ability to create sincere emotional connections to characters” no matter what kind of outlandish activities or predicaments the characters may have gotten themselves into (Mittell, 38). This is the type of emotional appeal that connects viewers to the show and has them coming back season after season, for the viewers genuinely want to see characters like Sam land his first date and finally have someone to dance his slow dance with prevailing over the social order.